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MENCS: Truex wins, advances to the round of eight

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CONCORD, North Carolina — For his sixth win of the season, Martin Truex Jr. won the Bank of America 500; with this win, in the first race of the second round of the playoffs – the round of 12 – Truex earned a birth into the round of eight.

The Furniture Row racing team taught it’s worth discounting qualifying efforts at 1.5 mile tracks. Grit empowers this team nearly as much as its raw speed.

“It'(s) just amazing to be a part of this team,” Truex said “to be on the roll we’re on, have the confidence we have, have the partners we have.† I just feel like everything is just lining up the way we need it to.”

Talladega will host the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next weekend, but this group of Coloradans† won’t face the same amount of stress from the fear of wrecking out in a multi-car crash as the rest of the playoff contenders.

The season long dominator found his way to the front after two hundred thirty-four laps were completed.†Truex never dominated but he managed to lead a total of 91 laps Sunday afternoon. This was second to Kevin Harvick’s 149 but points aren’t awarded toward for leading the most laps anymore, it’s all about being out front when it counts.

The last fall race conducted on the oval layout at Charlotte Motor Speedway came with the potential of weather, and a lot of it affecting the race. Strong storms came to North Carolina, a mesh of a pre-existing storm front and the reaming outer bands of what was Hurricane Nate. Everyone understood this forecast days ahead of the race but no one could be certain when this conglomerated storm would dampen the Charlotte/Concord area. NASCAR moved up the starting time of Sunday’s race by more than an hour to avoid a rain delay, as by Saturday it was clear the best window for the 500 mile event would fall earlier in the afternoon.

As a result of the humidity the air around the track often felt like an unpleasant sauna. The first 500 mile race since the Southern 500 was run in a wet heat, more than a few drivers were found sitting one pit wall upon exiting their cars.

Probably humidity,” Denny Hamlin thought, after the race was “the biggest factor.”

“Looking at my suit, you know, you usually can tell hydration level from my suit.† Any time it has white streaks all over it, I’m spent pretty good.† I feel pretty bad, no doubt about it.† But it’s getting better by the minute.”

“You’re prepared for it.† We always know the 500 miles here at Charlotte is like 600 somewhere else sometimes.† So yeah, it’s†– I think the humidity probably is what drained me the most today.† You know, like I say, there’s a lot of salt stains all over my suit, so that tells me dehydration was definitely a factor today.”

On top of the weather, Kyle Busch suffered a racecar full of carbon-monoxide, when he exited his vehicle he laid in the quad-oval before going to the infield care center for fluids and help expelling the toxins he’d spent the latter half of the race breathing in.

Back tracking to Friday’s opening practice, no driver completed 10 consecutive miles. PJ1 track bite, the traction compound used by NASCAR – so far exclusively at Speedway Motors Incorporated tracks – was applied to the top groove of the racing surface. Unexpectedly, drivers found area of track soaked in the chemical to be slicker. With NASCAR puzzled,†drivers drove on ice skates during the practice session as they looked to find the new limits of the track.

On Saturday, rain washed away both scheduled practice sessions, forcing the MENCS teams to set up their cars blind. Many referenced the setups used on in-house simulators. Charlotte Motor Speedway is the epitome of temperature sensitive race tracks, simulations may not give teams everything they’re looking for, especially with the eventual use of the tire dragon on top of the track bite. NASCAR, considering the limited practice opted to hold a competition caution on lap 35.

Martin Truex Jr., with his win sixth win of the season, is going to the round of eight in NASCAR’s playoffs. Photo by Boyd Adams.

From the drop of the green flag, shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday, Hamlin, the pole sitter, led the way. Kevin Harvick, having started third shadowed the Chesterfield, Virginia raised driver throughout the short stint but never made the pass before competition caution. With a quickie styled caution, NASCAR and teams checked tire wear and then resumed racing.

Five laps after the restart, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman rubbed fenders. Drifting up into Bowyer, Newman forced his competitor into his right rear quarter panel, nicking him into the retaining wall along the exit of turn two. From the shunt Bowyer was propelled back down the track towards the interior of the back straightaway. His No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy was still rolling but caught fire while driving back to the pits. He used the in-car fire suppressant system and stopped the car short of pit road – his day was done.

“I don’t know if he turned me on purpose, he probably had the right to,” Newman stated after being cleared of injury by infield medical center. When asked about the track conditions chided, “it’s fabricated, what do you expect?”

Clint Bowyer, who qualified fifth, was never competitive after the skirmish. At the time of the caution Chase Elliott was holding point, but a lap after the race went back to green Kevin Harvick assumed the lead. He stayed there until the conclusion of the first stage, garnering ten points and another playoff point adding to his previous total of 15.

Ryan Newman’s car lit up with fire after his wreck with Clint Bowyer. Photo by Boyd Adams.

Jamie McMurray took the lead under that caution but surrendered the position on the restart to Kyle Busch. Busch, the winner of the past two races kept his position until lap 117 when Harvick found a way around the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota. During the same circuit Michael McDowell spun around turns one and two. At the time of the caution Busch had gone back around Harvick for the lead. On the restart Harvick took the lead back, once again.

Seventeen laps later Busch discovered the outside wall – slicing up his right-rear quarter panel. A caution called, Busch’s team had five minutes of on pit road time to repair his car under the damage clock His team used nearly all of his allotted time but couldn’t maintain his position on the lead lap. Though he met minimum speed after the race went back green nothing got easier for Busch from this point going forward.

After the restart on lap 140, Kevin Harvick maintained his position as the leader until the end of stage two, giving him another set of ten points and a playoff point – earning maximum stage points possible.

After Friday’s PJ1 faux pas drivers didn’t give the compound a favorable outlook at the speedway, though many of them spent plenty of laps utilizing the grip. Photo by Boyd Adams.

The final stage began with a long green flag run, featuring one of NASCAR’s staples, green flag pitstops. Forty-six laps past the stage three green flag, Harvick surrendered the lead to Chase Elliott when he dove down pit road. By this time Truex had driven up to second, with a quick stop and efficient time getting on and off pit road Harvick found the driver of the No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota had surpassed him on the race track.

Finally, Truex was looking true to his 2017 form, he paced the field for the next thirty-four laps.

On lap 267 David Ragan lost control of his car in turn two. Skidding down Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 24 degree banking he clobbered Danica Patrick, who had dipped onto the track’s apron in an attempt to avoid the spinning vehicle. This ended the day for both drivers, reserving Ragan to 37 and Patrick 38 in the final running order.

Kyle Larson led the way on the ensuing restart, remaining there for twelve laps, on lap 280 Harvick found his was back to the front. On the same lap Busch struck the wall for a second time. On pit road under the caution Truex found his way to the front. Larson, who was showing he had a car worthy of a win, dropped more than ten positions when his rear tire carrier fell and fumbled his tire.

Racing towards the checkered flag, teammates AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buesher tangled. Photo by Boyd Adams.

At this point it began to look like a runaway for Truex. Harvick flirted with making a pass for the lead but by lap 327 he was more than a second behind the No. 78. On the same lap Busch stook another shunt, striking the outside wall Busch spewed some debris along the lower lane of the track and apron. The yellow was shown and the race outcome was in question.

All drivers came to the pits under this caution, Truex retained his lead. Three laps after the restart on lap 330 Kurt Busch wiggled up into Larson’s left-rear quarter panel, Larson kept it straight but the same isn’t said for Kurt. He spun down the turn two banking, narrowly avoiding being struck by a multitude of drivers.

The Bank of America 500 went into overtime. Needing only one attempt, Truex pointed his Toyota towards the checkered.

 

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